A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What was Jesus' real name?

December 8, 1978

Dear Cecil:

During the TV series I, Claudius, mentions of Jesus Christ were mostly couched in allusions to "the Nazarene." In one of the later episodes, however, he was referred to as "Joshua bar-Joseph." Was this his true natal name, and if so, how did it get transformed into Jesus?

Dear John:

"Jesus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew "Joshua" (meaning "Jehovah saves"), which is the name (roughly) The Boss went by in his heyday. Galileans during the time of Christ spoke Aramaic, but apparently they used Hebrew names for their kids the way Italian-Americans, say, might use an Italian name today.

By the time the Gospels were written in 60 AD or so, Greek had come into general use for literary purposes and "Joshua" became "Jesus." The prefix bar- means "son of" in Aramaic, so "bar-Joseph" is roughly comparable to "O'Shaughnessy," or if you really want to get basic about it, "Joe's kid Josh." But you can see where that wouldn't fly in a script.

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